My First Master (The American School of Empty hand Fighting)

In Uncategorized on September 5, 2013 at 5:35 am

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By Antonio Graceffo

My first martial arts instructor H. David Collins was seriously hardcore. He came home from the Vietnam War, hung up his green army duffle bag on a tree in front of his mother’s house, and used it for a kick bag. That was how The American School of Empty Hand Fighting started. By the time I joined, 1980, they were training in an old warehouse, where the floor was covered with discarded carpet remnants. For judo, we practiced our throws in a smelly pit full of old packaging foam and sofa stuffing. The heavy bag had been destroyed so many times that it looked like Frankenstein, all patched together with heavy-duty leather cord and fishing line. There was a wooden box with a ramshackle collection of soaking wet, horribly stinky, mismatched boxing gloves. Sometimes I’d have a red ten ounce glove on my left hand and a brown 16 ounce on the right. Your hands smelled like French vinegar and underwear after you boxed with them. Because the stuffing was coming out, your knuckles often went clean through them, cutting someone’s face or breaking your knuckle. Sometimes, on impact, you were suddenly blinded by a poof of stuffing like a movie effect. We couldn’t afford mouth guards, shin guards, hand wraps or headgear. I started there when I was about 12 and didn’t get my first mouth guard till I was 16. We often wore shoes during sparring because if there was no room inside, we sparred on the concrete in the parking lot. The tin roof had holes in it, so water came in when it rained. With no insulation and of course no air-con, it was boiling hot in summer and ice cold in winter. And I have NOTHING but good memories of that place.

Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia. He is the author of the books, “Warrior Odyssey’ and “The Monk from Brooklyn.” He is also the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.

Warrior Odyssey, the book chronicling Antonio Graceffo’s first six years in Asia is available at The book contains stories about the war in Burma and the Shan State Army. The book is available at

See Antonio’s Destinations video series and find out about his column on




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  1. I started in 1985 at the American School. I still smell the vinegar, lol.

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